This is a Writers' Other Jobs piece from CJ Bowerbird.


Image source: Flickr / Shai Barzilay

I was an Air Force pilot for twenty years. Flying was physically demanding and mentally challenging. I was lucky enough to have the skills to do what very few people do. I have flown to 50,000 feet and faster than the speed of sound, and when I flew well, it was very satisfying.

I have been filled with awe at the natural beauty of the universe. I have been so close to the aurora borealis it felt as though I was inside a flame in the sky. I’ve watched lines of thunderstorms stretched on the horizon pulsing with beats of light and St Elmo’s fire on the canopy of my aircraft creating a live action plasma lamp. All the while, I was feeling the static electricity in the hairs on my neck. It is difficult to describe how big the Milky Way is, when seen from high in the sky. It is hard to comprehend the number of stars that are actually out there.

It wasn’t the technical aspects of modern aircraft or the thrill of flying that gave me the most satisfaction, though. In the Air Force, I was privileged to work with some very dedicated men and women. Thinking about it now, I miss the people more than I do the flying.

As I was promoted in the Air Force, I became responsible for greater numbers of people. Decisions I made could have great influence on the lives of others. This mattered a lot to me. I learnt a lot about myself and about others through these interactions. It was particularly satisfying when I could help others achieve their goals in a supportive environment.

Communication was a large part of the job in the Air Force. An ability to convey information and motivate other people was essential. I did a lot of speaking in public, whether briefing a mission or speaking about an upcoming exercise.

I wrote mostly short stories while in the Air Force. I toyed momentarily with the idea of writing about flying or being a pilot, but I found it difficult to convey creatively what flying was like and I couldn’t feel any connection with others in the technical aspects of aircraft. Relationships and the interactions between people interested me more.

I now write exclusively poetry and these themes continue to dominate my writing. I am much more interesting in what all humans have in common and how we connect with each other. My time in the Air Force working with other people informs my writing now much more than my experience of being a pilot.

The public speaking aspect of the job has definitely helped with being a spoken word artist. I use a lot of this experience in my performance. Simple things like preparation, rehearsal, looking the audience in the eye and dealing with nerves I learnt while in the Air Force.

Being a pilot was an experience separated from my creative side, but the communication and human interaction aspects have influenced my art considerably. I was very fortunate to have a challenging and rewarding job, working with some great people. It is working with these people that speaks mostly to the themes of my writing.

Poetry, performing and collaborating with other creative people teach me things about myself. I continue to grow as a person, largely due to my creative activities. There are moral and ethical aspects of my time in the Air Force that I am yet to touch in my work. As I continue to grow, I am confident I will address these issues.


CJ Bowerbird is the 2013 Australian Poetry Slam Champion. He has been dispatching poetry from his home in Canberra, Australia, for the past five years. He has been a featured performer at the Bookworm International Literary Festival in China, Ubud Writer's Festival and at the You Are Here and Art, Not Apart festivals in Canberra.

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Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.